“We first met at a local bar that had weekly LGBT+ nights (we know, cliché) where I (Chelsea) had worked part-time as a cocktail waitress. Chris had only come to the bar because his long-distance girlfriend at the time wanted him to make friends with other couples. He would always bring his older sister with him. Over the course of his first night there, my boss wanted to be able to flirt with his sister, so I was enlisted to engage in conversation with Chris to distract him away from his sister so my boss could shoot his shot. Chris was cute, but I would say he was not my ‘type,’ nor was I for him. If I hadn’t been given the direction, it probably would never have happened.
Little did I know, that would be the beginning of our love story.
Every week, Chris would come back to the bar with friends, and I would joke he was already ‘hooked’ on me because he was coming back for more every week. After about 2 months of meeting like this, one night Chris revealed he deliberately got into a fight to force a breakup with his girlfriend under the pretense of wanting her to visit more often. I believe his exact words to me were, ‘I just got dumped, I’m so heartbroken, here’s my number.’
Shortly after the exchange of numbers, I had won 4 tickets to a cruise along the Hudson which coincidentally ran on the weekend of my 25th birthday. This was the perfect opportunity to try and link up with him along with two of my best friends. Now, I have to also share, I was always the one that was pursued in past relationships – never the pursuer. But, Chris (who admitted later) was playing a little hard to get and made me work for his attention. That may be why I was so intrigued by him. It was something new and fun of course, but for someone who has always been on the receiving end of the courting phase, I felt so out of place and scared to call and ask him out. So, what do I do? Get my best friend to do it for me (LOL).
The early stages of our relationship moved pretty quickly. We met in September, he moved into my apartment in November, and we became engaged in December of the same year. But before I get into that story, I have to say I’m not the type to just bring anyone around my kids. Before I accepted the engagement, I made sure Chris got along with the kids because ultimately, they were my first priority.
Dyleena and Xavier, who were only 4 and 6 when they were first introduced to Chris (who was presenting as female at the time), were each from my prior marriage. As if parenting children was not hard enough, both are on the autism spectrum. Despite their special needs, they both understood at an early age the basic concept that ‘mommy liked girls.’ When we first came together as a couple, they each responded positively. However, once we began to co-habitat under the same roof, it did take time to adjust to having him as a parental/authoritative figure. It was harder for Xavier to adjust given that he was older and at first did not like someone else there to enforce the rules. Dyleena was the total opposite and their bond seemed instantaneous. She would refer to Chris as ‘Mommy #2’ and was very protective of him.
The fact we were a blended family did present some struggles and difficulties we had to learn to work through. There was some friction between our family unit and the biological father’s family for quite some time, but we always tried to stay open for the sake of the kids. Over time, and especially once we set boundaries, it has gotten much better throughout the years.
But let’s get back to our love story, which definitely didn’t go according to plan. Chris had a set of rings passed down from his mother when he was ready to settle down. He had gone to a jeweler for re-sizing and when he dropped off the engagement ring, he absent-mindedly gave the jeweler our home number instead of his mobile number (rookie mistake, but I guess he was a little nervous). They ended up calling when Chris was out, so I unknowingly intercepted the call and effectively ruined the surprise. I didn’t let him know, though. I didn’t want to ruin it for him, and who knows, I could’ve been wrong about my assumptions.
One night shortly after, while sleeping with my hand on his chest as I always did, he slipped the ring onto my finger. As I woke and found what he had done, he asked me to marry him. It was a sweet moment; perfect for me because I’m not really into the grandiose gestures (love to watch it with other people, but just not for me). Funny thing about that though, even though I was completely happy with the engagement band he proposed with, what he didn’t know is he was supposed to propose with the diamond. So, technically I got proposed to twice; the second time along with dessert at our local Red Lobster. Other bystanders within our view were waiting in suspense as he nonchalantly slid the ring box across the table and other couples did a little clap when I said yes…again. We tied the knot 2 years later in Connecticut just us two, then had a larger ceremony with friends and family in attendance back in our home state of New York.
Chris, of course, was the first to have ‘baby fever,’ and for about a year he was trying to talk me into having another child. Chris treated and cared for my older kids as if they were his own, but he wanted to create a child together (without having to carry, because that just wasn’t going to happen). I was apprehensive at first. But, once the seed was planted, I remembered how much I missed being pregnant. Then I thought, ‘I was pregnant before, but I never had an experience where I had a supportive partner throughout a pregnancy and raising a child.’ I figured this could be my last chance to do it the ‘right way,’ where I was actually planning it.
We embarked on this new journey, but it didn’t go as easy as we thought it would. I had endometriosis that had gone untreated for years and had to undergo 2 surgeries and rounds of various medications just to get my body ready to try IUI. We went through 4 failed IUI cycles using an anonymous donor that best matched Chris’ physical attributes. After this, we had to take a break because it was taking a toll on my body, my mental health, and our finances. After a little over a year, we switched fertility doctors, essentially starting from scratch again, but this time we took a leap of faith and chose IVF instead and were successful on our first try.
When the older kids learned we were expecting, they both were ecstatic! They really wanted to be involved as much as they could be and made sure I was comfortable and the baby belly was safe from harm. It was very cute and heartwarming to see their protective side. Baby Carter made her arrival in July of 2015! Even after Carter arrived, that trend continued. Dyleena especially would choose to stay up with us during the beginning sleepless nights to help and make sure we stayed awake to take care of Carter. Now, 5 years later, they get along but bicker like nobody’s business. I never had the experience of growing up with a sister (I had 2 brothers), but Chris knew all about that and could attest the hot and cold relationship they have is normal.
Chris’ journey to coming out as transgender wasn’t an easy one. At 6, he knew with certainty he was attracted to women, so naturally he assumed he was a lesbian. But he always knew there was another piece missing. Growing up with 2 sisters and later a little brother, he was never into the typical ‘girl’ things. He refused to wear dresses at the age of 2. It wasn’t until 2016, when he attended an LGBTQ health conference, he had that lightbulb moment about his gender identity. He knew at this point he could not continue to inhabit the female body he never connected to.
Now, I am completely supportive of my husband and his transition. But at the time he initially came out as trans to me, it was like the rug had been pulled out from under me. I hadn’t really known anyone trans and had no idea what this would mean for us as a couple. The way he had communicated it to me also didn’t make things easier to digest, let alone understand. He basically made the announcement, and without allowing me any time to process or respond, continued by saying something to the effect of, ‘I’m trans, this is something I have to do and I’m going to do it even if it means losing you/everything in the process!’ How am I supposed to feel secure in our relationship with such a bold statement? As soon as we were able to have an open and honest conversation, we decided it would be beneficial to start couple’s therapy to help us through the transition period. This was key to making it to where we are today.
We each had some insecurities and issues we had to work through individually and as a couple. My biggest fear was I would lose him or he would no longer want me at some point. At the time, there were not many people we could look to as ‘relationship goals.’ To the contrary, everyone we did find (with the exception of one couple, Aydian & Jenilee Dowling, whom we absolutely love) had either changed completely or if they were in a relationship, it had always led to a breakup. I grew up in a broken family, had already had one divorce, and didn’t want my kids to go through a second separation. We did not want that for us or our family and knew we had to make every effort to make this work – there was no room for failure.
The other real challenge I faced was maintaining my identity through Chris’ transition. Looking at us from the outside, we present as a heterosexual couple. It didn’t necessarily bother me, except for in the instances where I am trying to navigate LGTBQ+ spaces or stay connected to the community because I still identify as a lesbian. Yes, a lesbian who just happens to be married to a trans man. This was an internal battle for me, because for so long I had to suppress who I was to fit societal norms; I fought against opposition to stay true to myself. Now, in this instance, I felt like I was being forced into a closet. When I no longer cared how others would perceive me or what others thought of me, I got over it real quick. This is what works for us and that’s all that matters.
In April of 2016, in a drastic turn of events, we were met with earthshattering news. Carter was diagnosed with Leukemia. She had been running a fever on and off over a period of 2 weeks. Then, we had noticed these little freckles that began to spread over time anywhere from her chest, to her face and neck, and even inside the white of her eye. Chris took Carter to the pediatrician who ran some blood tests. She was sent home while we waited for the results and within 10 minutes, we get the call. We had to immediately take her to the Children’s Hospital. It was a long hour and fifteen minute ride to the hospital. I was so worried and scared for our baby and it took everything in me not to pick up my phone and do a Google search to try and figure out what could possibly be wrong. We arrived at the emergency room, eagerly awaiting her results. Then walks in a team of at least 5 people, crammed into this small space, closing the curtain behind them and breaking the news of Carter’s diagnosis.
We remained in the hospital for 10 days as Carter received blood transfusions and underwent her first surgery to insert a mediport in her chest in anticipation of the years of chemotherapy that would follow. At first it was jarring and overwhelming, but Carter really made it look easy. Everything that is supposed to make you tired or feel sick, she breezed right though it. It never really slowed her down, she was still always so energetic and an all-around happy kid. How she handled whatever pain she might’ve been in, she managed it extremely well. Thankfully, Carter is in remission and has officially completed her final phase of chemotherapy back in July of 2020. She will continue to be monitored over the next 5 years to be sure there is no relapses before the doctors consider her ‘cured,’ but we are already claiming it!
Now we are all just trying to live our best lives. It is rare to be surrounded and immersed by LGBT+ culture, especially in our area, outside of NYC Pride of course. However, through our YouTube channel we’ve had the opportunity to meet and connect with other LGBT+ families close to home and throughout the country. We love to network and connect with other people and families just like us, which is why we try to be so active on our social media platforms.
At first, we started our channel ‘LBCPartyofFive’ to document our TTC (trying-to-conceive) journey. Then, as we evolved and continued to grow, we shared Chris’ transition, Carter’s diagnosis and just our everyday lives. It has been such a wonderful and pleasant experience, to say the least. Interacting with our subscribers (who we dub our #LBCFam) has become a big part of our support system throughout this whole journey. We are so eternally grateful for our extended online family.
If I had to sum up our lives in one word…challenging! The pandemic hasn’t made anything easier, as I’m sure many could relate. Between working (and schooling) from home, doctor’s appointments, recreational activities (online dance, arts, etc.) in addition to the norm of cooking and cleaning, it seems like we are always on the move with something to do. We wake up, go to work/school (mostly from home), then eat dinner, etc. It leaves little to no down time, and kid-free time at this point has become non-existent. If we’re lucky, Chris and I get to cuddle up on the couch long enough to watch a Netflix special (granted he is still awake by the time Carter goes to sleep) and go to bed just to do it all over again the next day.
Since we work on opposite schedules, it can be hectic at times. But we still try to make things as routine as possible so we can schedule in some family time to play a game or watch a movie together. But to be honest, I think the teens are secretly sick of us at this point because we’re all in the house so often now (LOL). We are simply taking everything one day at a time. We are a really great team. My weaknesses are his strengths and vice versa. Anything we have to conquer, it’s easier when we do it together.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Chelsea LaTorre. You can follow their journey on Instagram and YouTube. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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